In the Fight Against Unjust Law, Referendum is History

Igor Tregub is a UC Berkeley student and a member of Activists’ Commission for Creating and Engaging Service to Students (ACCESS). Send comments to [email protected]

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The steering committee of the Campaign for Reasonable Laws decided Wednesday to end the petition drive to place the Social Host Ordinance to a public vote via referendum. Though we know you wanted us to continue, we’ve come to the realization that our chances of success had become very slim.

The campus community deserves to know why.

From the beginning, we saw this as an effort by the student community to defend our constitutional rights. The Social Host Ordinance, among its many sins, will allow the city of Berkeley to charge the host of a party at which a guest is found to be underage and consuming alcoholic beverages with a crime without having to prove that the host knew the age of the drinker.

Though it’s not constitutional to switch the presumption of innocence to a presumption of guilt, the city is banking on the reality that no one is likely to be willing to undergo an expensive court case in order to overturn the ordinance.

Because students hold parties at which participants are often around the age of 21, we are disproportionately affected by this law. It was our expectation that the student community would rally round our cause. Indeed, almost every individual student we contacted was incensed and eager to join our fight.

But the city wasn’t content with passing the law: They also went to considerable trouble, once we filed for a referendum, to make sure we failed. Greek leaders were pressured to not support the effort and were told that their support for the petition would damage their relationship with both the city and the university administration, who then backed this up.

The lack of solid student support was devastating to our effort. In addition, the City Council had sped up their action in order to enact this bill immediately before spring break; since the law only allows 30 days to gather the necessary signatures for a referendum, that action alone cost us a third of our precious time.

So at this point we accept that there’s no way we will be able to amass the over 4,000 valid Berkeley voter signatures required by next Thursday (in practice, 5,500 would be needed, since some signatures are always invalidated).

Our experience collecting signatures for the last two weeks has left an indelible mark. We received an outpouring of support, from both within and outside the campus community. We learned that a majority of the Berkeley population share our sentiment: that it is inappropriate to resort to excessive, draconian and unconstitutional measures in order to better control parties in Berkeley.

By criminalizing party-givers through this ordinance, the city of Berkeley is clogging up an already overextended criminal court system to solve a problem that is primarily the result of inadequate police staffing and insufficient police training and experience. In a word, the City Council was lazy, and they and the university administration were completely dismissive of the rights and concerns of students.

We will continue to mobilize, speak out at meetings, and, when we can, use the power of the ballot to express our outrage at our unfair treatment at the hand of a hostile, uncaring and unthinking City Council. We invite you to join us in our struggle.


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